Friday, April 29, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, May 3, 2016

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
256 p. (Fiction; Nigeria)

In far northwestern Nigeria, Dantala lives among a gang of street boys who sleep under a kuka tree. During the election, the boys are paid by the Small Party to cause trouble. When their attempt to burn down the opposition’s local headquarters ends in disaster, Dantala must run for his life, leaving his best friend behind. He makes his way to a mosque that provides him with food, shelter, and guidance. With his quick aptitude and modest nature, Dantala becomes a favored apprentice to the mosque’s sheikh. Before long, he is faced with a terrible conflict of loyalties, as one of the sheikh’s closest advisors begins to raise his own radical movement. When bloodshed erupts in the city around him, Dantala must decide what kind of Muslim—and what kind of man—he wants to be. Told in Dantala’s naïve, searching voice, this astonishing debut explores the ways in which young men are seduced by religious fundamentalism and violence.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Solemn by Kalisha Buckhanon
304 p. (Fiction; African-American)

Solemn Redvine is a precocious Mississippi girl who senses a nearby baby may be her half-sibling: the outcome of her father's mistakes with a married woman who lives in their trailer park. After Solemn witnesses a man throw the baby down a community well, she struggles to understand the event, leaving her forever changed.

As Solemn finds refuge in fantasies of stardom as well as friendships with her brother's wife and a nearby girl, the ill-fated baby's doomed mother disappears without a trace. Solemn remains trapped by connections to the missing other woman and an honest cop who suspects more to the story than others on the small local police force want to see. When her father's next mistake - a robbery - lands Solemn in a group home for troubled girls, she meets a Chicago delinquent who wants to escape. There, Solemn must face the truth of who she really is and what she is really made of.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir by D. Watkins
272 p. (Non-fiction; biography)

The smartest kid on his block in East Baltimore, D. was certain he would escape the life of drugs, decadence, and violence that had surrounded him since birth. But when his brother Devin is shot-only days after D. receives notice that he's been accepted into Georgetown University-the plans for his life are exploded, and he takes up the mantel of his brother's crack empire. D. succeeds in cultivating the family business, but when he meets a woman unlike any he's known before, his priorities are once more put into question. Equally terrifying and hilarious, inspiring and heartbreaking, D.'s story offers a rare glimpse into the mentality of a person who has escaped many hells.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y. K. Choi
288 p. (Fiction; Korean Canadian)

This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence.

A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Infidels by Abdellah Taïa
144 p. (Fiction; Morocco)

Set in Salé, Morocco—the hometown Abdellah Taïa fled but to which he returns again and again in his acclaimed fiction and films—Infidels follows the life of Jallal, the son of a prostitute witch doctor—“a woman who knew men, humanity, better than anyone. In sex. Beyond sex.” As a ten-year-old sidekick to his mother, Jallal spits in the face of her enemies both real and imagined.

The cast of characters that rush into their lives are unforgettable for their dreams of love and belonging that unravel in turn. Built as a series of monologues that are emotionally relentless—a mix of confession, heart’s murmuring, and shouting match—the book follows Jallal out of boyhood on the path to Jihad. It’s a path that surprises even him.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

South Haven by Hirsh Sawhney
296 p. (Fiction; Southeast Asian American)

Siddharth Arora lives an ordinary life in the New England suburb of South Haven, but his childhood comes to a grinding halt when his mother dies in a car accident. Siddharth soon gravitates toward a group of adolescent bullies, drinking and smoking instead of drawing and swimming. He takes great pains to care for his depressive father, Mohan Lal, an immigrant who finds solace in the hateful Hindu fundamentalism of his homeland and cheers on Indian fanatics who murder innocent Muslims. When a new woman enters their lives, Siddharth and his father have a chance at a fresh start. They form a new family, hoping to leave their pain behind them.

South Haven is no simple coming-of-age tale or hero's journey, blurring the line between victim and victimizer and asking readers to contend with the lies we tell ourselves as we grieve and survive.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Native Believer by Ali Eteraz
320 p. (Fiction; Asian American)

Ali Eteraz's much-anticipated debut novel is the story of M., a supportive husband, adventureless dandy, lapsed believer, and second-generation immigrant who wants nothing more than to host parties and bring children into the world as full-fledged Americans. As M.'s life gradually fragments around him--a wife with a chronic illness; a best friend stricken with grief; a boss jeopardizing a respectable career--M. spins out into the pulsating underbelly of Philadelphia, where he encounters others grappling with fallout from the War on Terror. Among the pornographers and converts to Islam, punks and wrestlers, M. confronts his existential degradation and the life of a second-class citizen.

Darkly comic, provocative, and insightful, Native Believer is a startling vision of the contemporary American experience and the human capacity to shape identity and belonging at all costs.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
272 p. (Non-fiction; biography)

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman's extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven't been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like the author's and on a system that fails them over and over.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#BookReview: BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As much as I love Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s writing, I struggled to figure out what was the message in her latest, Before We Visit the Goddess. The story is centered around three women: Sabitri, Bela and Tara. Generations and distance (both physical and emotional) separate them.

As a girl in India, Sabitri, the daughter of the best confectioner in her village, doesn’t dream of marriage. She dreams of continuing her education. Taken in by a wealthy patron, she starts on her journey to becoming a teacher, only to have it derailed by men. Early on her husband’s jealousy and insecurity poisons their marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Bela.

As a young woman in India, Bela feels disconnected from the mother that has always seemed to put her business interests before her. When Sanjay, her college boyfriend, offers a chance to escape Sabitri and India, Bela takes it, finding herself in America. But just like her mother before her, Bela’s husband’s jealousy and insecurity poisons their marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Tara.

Tara has never been to India, has never met her grandmother, Sabitri. She knows nothing of her mother’s contentious relationship with her own mother, but she does know that she feels suffocated by her mother, Bela, and so just like her mother before her, she cuts her off. And just like her mother and grandmother, Tara finds herself failing at relationships and life in general. A day trip with a stranger to a temple sets her on a new direction.

Reconciling with her mother, Tara discovers that they are more alike than different. My question is, how much different would Tara’s life have been if she knew her mother’s story or her grandmother’s story? How much different would Bela’s life have been if she knew her mother’s story? Why don’t these women think they deserve better than the men they end up with?

224 p.
Published: April 2016

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Simon & Schuster

Friday, April 22, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, April 26, 2016

Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
288 p. (Fiction)

On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka.

After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Water Museum: Stories by Luis Alberto Urrea
272 p. (Fiction; short stories)

From one of America's preeminent literary voices comes a new story collection that proves once again why the writing of Luis Alberto Urrea has been called "wickedly good" (Kansas City Star), "cinematic and charged" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and "studded with delights" (Chicago Tribune). Examining the borders between one nation and another, between one person and another, Urrea reveals his mastery of the short form. This collection includes the Edgar-award winning "Amapola" and his now-classic "Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses," which had the honor of being chosen for NPR's "Selected Shorts" not once but twice.

Suffused with wanderlust, compassion, and no small amount of rock and roll, The Water Museum is a collection that confirms Luis Alberto Urrea as an American master.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Soul Sisters: Devotions for and from African American, Latina, and Asian Women by Suzan Johnson Cook
256 p. (Non-fiction; devotional)

The challenges women face in modern society—raising a family, finding and keeping a steady job in a tough economic climate, and powering through everyday struggles—can feel insurmountable without a solid support system. Soul Sisters is one of the many ways in which Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook hopes to reach women in need of such a system.

This book, from one of the world’s leading experts in equality and former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, includes inspirational stories from women of all backgrounds who have overcome life’s obstacles and become even stronger because of their struggles.

Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Gold of Our Fathers by Kwei Quartey
368 p. (Fiction; mystery/Ghana)

Darko Dawson has just been promoted to Chief Inspector in the Ghana Police Service—the promotion even comes with a (rather modest) salary bump. But he doesn’t have long to celebrate because his new boss is transferring him from Accra, Ghana’s capital, out to remote Obuasi in the Ashanti region, an area now notorious for the illegal exploitation of its gold mines.

When Dawson arrives at the Obuasi headquarters, he finds it in complete disarray. The office is a mess of uncatalogued evidence and cold case files, morale is low, and discipline among officers is lax. On only his second day on the job, the body of a Chinese mine owner is unearthed in his own gold quarry. As Dawson investigates the case, he quickly learns how dangerous it is to pursue justice in this kingdom of illegal gold mines, where the worst offenders have so much money they have no fear of the law.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Flower Plantation by Nora Anne Brown
300 p. (Historical fiction; Rwanda)

Arthur Baptiste knows little of Rwanda's past and is unaware of its emerging troubles. He lives with his parents on a flower plantation where he talks to no one, not even the butterflies he collects, until one day Beni appears.

Beni, the cook's daughter, is a child much like Arthur but one who lives in a world far different from his own. Their friendship will take them from innocent adventures to sexual encounters and on toward dark revelations . . .

When news comes that the President has been killed, Arthur is forced to leave his home, the country he knows, and the people he loves. Arthur must say goodbye to Beni and leave her to a fate far worse than either could have imagined.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Black Well-Being: Health and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature by Andrea Stone
240 p. (Literary criticism; African-American)

Analyzing slave narratives, emigration polemics, a murder trial, and black-authored fiction, Andrea Stone highlights the central role physical and mental health and well-being played in antebellum black literary constructions of selfhood. At a time when political and medical theorists emphasized black well-being in their arguments for or against slavery, African American men and women developed their own theories about what it means to be healthy and well in contexts of injury, illness, sexual abuse, disease, and disability.

Such portrayals of the healthy black self in early black print culture created a nineteenth-century politics of well-being that spanned continents. Even in conditions of painful labor, severely limited resources, and physical and mental brutality, these writers counter stereotypes and circumstances by representing and claiming the totality of bodily existence.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#BookReview: THE BOOK OF HARLAN by Bernice L. McFadden

Bernice McFadden covers a lot in The Book of Harlan. Spanning six decades, readers are taken on a journey from the upper class home of an upstanding preacher to the outskirts of the Harlem Renaissance, crossing the ocean to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and winding its way back to black pride and a humble Brooklyn dwelling. Like I said, McFadden does a lot. Fortunately for readers, she does it well.

The daughter of one of Macon, Georgia’s most upstanding citizens is constricting. Emma feels like a caged peacock, placed on display on Sundays as the church pianist, but not allowed to do anything that might be viewed as improper by her parents or society. She might have resigned herself to life as a country girl were it not for her best friend Lucille. Lucille had been singing in the church choir as long as Emma had been playing the piano. Lucille’s singing takes her to places that she and Emma only dreamed about and when she arrived back in Macon, she was a changed woman.
Lucille strolled toward her with newly unshackled hips swaying like the back door of a whorehouse.
The arrival of this new Lucille is enough to motivate Emma to find herself a piece of a man, so when Sam Elliott comes to town, saying the right things, Emma hitches her wagon to him. Of this marriage comes Harlan, a spoiled and lazy creature whose lackadaisical manner gets him in trouble repeatedly.
…perhaps Harlan knew, even in infancy, just what the universe had in store for him.
“Is there something wrong with my baby?” Emma asked the doctor.
“No, he’s perfectly healthy, just lazy.”
Spoiled first by his grandparents and then by his parents, in an attempt to make up for missing out on his early years, Harlan takes nothing too seriously and everything for granted. His brash manner sends him and his best friend, Lizard, straight to a concentration camp and changes him in unimaginable ways.

I love McFadden’s writing. Her characters are smart and fun-loving, but she doesn’t mind allowing them to make mistakes. Harlan is hard headed and almost every bad situation he finds himself in is of his own doing. How long does it take him to realize this and change himself – a long time. But that’s the journey McFadden takes him on. It took his mother awhile to get herself together, so is it a generational curse? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that while I was entranced by Emma and her family, I was equally entertained by the Gills, a Barbadian family, and Lizard, Harlan’s best friend who is not as he appears to be. As always, McFadden provides plenty of food for thought. Who else would think to teach us that blacks did indeed end up in German concentration camps? Who else would incorporate whites passing for black, especially at a time when it wasn’t beneficial to do so? Bernice McFadden would, that’s who.

400 p.
Published: April/May 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are mine

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, April 15, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, April 19, 2016

The Summer of Me by Angela Benson
352 p. (Fiction; African-American)

As a single mother, Destiny makes sacrifices for her children-including saying goodbye for the summer so they can spend time with their father and stepmother. Though she’ll miss them with all her heart, the time alone gives her an opportunity to address her own needs, like finish getting her college degree. But Destiny’s friends think her summer should include some romance.

Destiny doesn’t want to be set up…until she meets Daniel. The handsome, warm and charming pastor soon sweeps Destiny off her feet. But is romance what she really wants? Or needs?

As the days pass, Destiny will make new discoveries—about herself, the man she’s fallen for, and the people around her. And she’ll face challenging choices. But most of all, she’ll grow in ways she never imagined, learning unexpected lessons about trust, forgiveness, and the price of motherhood…and truly become the woman she wants to be.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
224 p. (Fiction; India)

The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgivable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover—but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak, and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Blackbirds by Eric Jerome Dickey
528 p. (Fiction; African-American)

They call themselves the Blackbirds. Kwanzaa Browne, Indigo Abdulrahaman, Destiny Jones, and Ericka Stockwell are four best friends who are closer than sisters, and will go to the ends of the earth for one another. Yet even their deep bond can’t heal all wounds from their individual pasts, as the collegiate and post-collegiate women struggle with their own demons, drama, and desires.

Trying to forget her cheating ex-fiancé, Kwanzaa becomes entangled with a wicked one-night stand—a man who turns out to be one in five million. Indigo is in an endless on-again, off-again relationship with her footballer boyfriend, and in her time between dysfunctional relationships she purses other naughty desires. Destiny, readjusting to normal life, struggles to control her own anger after avenging a deep wrong landed her in juvi, while at the same time trying to have her first real relationship—one she has initiated using an alias to hide her past from her lover. Divorced Ericka is in remission from cancer and trying to deal with two decades of animosity with her radical mother, while keeping the desperate crush she has always had on Destiny’s father a secret…a passion with an older man that just may be reciprocated.

As the women try to overcome—or give into—their impulses, they find not only themselves tested, but the one thing they always considered unbreakable: their friendship.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Under the Bali Moon by Octavia Grace
224 p. (Romance; African-American)

Exotic Bali is the perfect place to stage a wedding. If ambitious attorney Zena Shaw has her way, it'll also be the perfect place to prevent one. Zena loves her younger sister too much to watch her rush into a marriage she'll later regret. But Zena's mission hits an obstacle in the form of gorgeous Adan Douglass, the groom-to-be's brother—and the man who once broke Zena's heart.

Adan was just a college kid when he chose career ambition over love, but years later he regrets it. Now he's hoping to persuade the beautiful workaholic to join him at their siblings' union…and think about rekindling their own. From stunning beaches to magnificent temples, he'll show her everything this lush island has to offer—and hope these magical nights are only the beginning of forever…

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | Harlequin | IndieBound

When I Fall in Love by Bridget Anderson
224 p. (Romance; African-American)

Ascending the corporate ladder has consumed most of Tayler Carter's adult life. Now the savvy Atlanta VP and female-empowerment speaker is ready for a well-deserved retreat. A fabulous antebellum mansion turned B and B in rural Kentucky is the perfect change of pace. But her host is no unsophisticated farm boy. Rugged hunk Rollin Coleman is educating Tayler in the wonders of natural food and down-home passion.

Transforming his family's struggling homestead into an organic cooperative is starting to pay off for Rollin. But without the right woman, it's a lonely existence. Until he introduces his alluring new guest to the pleasures of the countryside. And once his small-town community embraces her, can Rollin count on Tayler to leave her fast-paced world behind and together create a place they can both call home?

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | Harlequin | IndieBound

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#BookReview: LAZARETTO by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

It’s been eight years since Diane McKinney-Whetstone blessed the literary community with her presence, but she’s back and hasn’t skipped a beat. With her multidimensional characters and descriptive narratives, she sweeps readers back in time to post-Civil War Philadelphia. The news of President Lincoln’s assassination hits town just in time to shape the course of events for some of your soon to be favorite characters. And McKinney-Whetstone tromps through the streets of Philadelphia like a woman on a mission, exposing class divisions, intra-racial and racial divisions.

In 1865 Philadelphia, a young woman gives birth to a child she can never claim. The lovely Meda, a servant in the Benin household, is brought to the midwife in hopes that she might abort the baby, but instead gives birth to a child that’s immediately taken away. Sylvia, the young assistant midwife is stunned because not only is this her first delivery, she can’t believe that the midwife would so readily turn the child over to Tom Benin, Meda’s employer and the child’s father.

Meda finds comfort in two baby boys that she’s immediately becomes attached to when she begins volunteering at the local orphanage, while Sylvia puts that dreadful day behind her and eventually goes on to become the head nurse at Lazaretto, the quarantine hospital. The heart of the story lies in the love that Meda has for the two babies that are raised as brothers, Linc and Bram, so named by Meda in respect to Abraham Lincoln.

Where Linc is soft and graceful, Bram is hard and sturdy. As Linc studies piano under Mrs. Benin’s tutelage, Bram explores Meda’s world. There he meets the affable Buddy, Meda’s brother, and is introduced to the world of poker and learns to use his hands. Those hands come in handy when Linc finds himself in trouble with the new head of the orphanage. His brother’s fights are his fights and when Bram steps in to handle what Linc cannot, the brothers find themselves on the run, forced to leave behind Philadelphia, Meda and Buddy.

Things come to a head when, years later, the lively cast of characters find themselves at Lazaretto for a wedding, but instead are quarantined. Suddenly, members of upper class society that would never make their way down to Fitzwater Street are mingling and not necessarily enjoying it. In Philadelphia, they’re all subject to racism, which unites them, but given a chance to escape it, they make class distinctions of their own. McKinney-Whetstone explains it like this:
These were trifles back home, where their differences receded in the face of them all being black in Philadelphia. Though in the confined space of the boat, their differences were dramatic and their personalities were popping like firecrackers and Carl warned that their discord would surely make them capsize.
Secrets are exposed, new love is revealed and old loves are rekindled as the party settles in for the long haul. In Vergie, Sylvia’s younger cousin, readers meet a woman so light she could pass for white but would sooner die than do so and is willing to fight anyone that claims she’s not black. Bram is willing to pass for black if it means Vergie will accept him. And Splotch, a card player that’s hated Bram since he was a child, is infatuated with Vergie, but would kill Bram in a heartbeat if Buddy wasn’t standing in his way.

The characters, the narratives, the story line – I honestly can’t think of any part of Lazaretto that I didn’t love. It’s rare that I read a book more than once, but there are a lot of characters and it was important to me that I get everyone placed just right in my head, so I re-read this. I also tore through it the first time because I was so excited to get something new from the author, so the second time around, I was able to savor it, make sure that it was just as good as I thought it was. And it was. Diane McKinney-Whetstone never disappoints.

352 p.
Published: April 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, April 8, 2016

#BookReview: BLACKASS by A. Igoni Barrett

In Franz Kafka's The Trial, the protagonist,  Mr. K, awakens one morning to find that his life has been turned upside down through no fault of his own. It seems that he's on trial for a crime that he's committed, but no one will tell him what the crime is and he spends a great deal of the book going back and forth to government agencies and makeshift courtrooms that take place in living rooms and other spaces around town trying to find answers.

Nikolai Gogol's The Nose tells the tale of Major Kovalyov's nose. The major wakes up one day to find it gone. The nose has literally taken on a life of its own. While the nose conducts business around town, Kovalyov's life is slowly falling to pieces until one morning he awakens to find that it's back on his face where it belongs.

Much like these surreal tales, A. Igoni Barrett explores the possibilities of waking to an unexpected life change. The morning of an interview for a new job, Furo Wariboko awakens to find that he's been transformed into a white man, complete with green eyes and red hair. Doors in Lagos that were previously closed to him as a "true" Nigerian are suddenly flung open.

Furo finds himself with a better job than he initially interviewed for, new friends and a new living situation. The only vestiges of his former life are his name, which can be easily changed, and his black ass. You see, while every other inch of his body is pale white, his butt remains black.

It would be easy to assume that Furo, now Frank, becomes a bit of an ass with his new personality. In actuality, the reader doesn't know. Our time with Furo is short. Frank, however, uses his newly elevated status in society to his advantage. Job offers suddenly appear for the man who'd previously been unable to find work. He has a pretty woman on his side and other women vying for his affection. Is this a result of his whiteness or new found confidence?

That question and others plague Furo/Frank throughout and come to a head eventually. And that's where I got confused. Because I was never sure if the personality coming through was Furo or Frank, it was difficult to figure out the author's ending. Would Frank go back to being Furo? Would he use his position as Frank to help his family? The book ended and I just wasn't sure.

Speaking of the author, Barrett inserts himself into the story line in a way that I've never seen done before and without seeming intrusive. He plays a character that befriends Furo early on and reconnects with him later, having gone through his own transformation. He also seems to be the one person that Furo completely trusts in the end, perhaps because he's the most relatable due to the circumstances.

I really liked this book, but I can see how others might have problems with it. You have to be willing to stretch your imagination and having a bit of knowledge about Nigeria might be helpful. That being said, I think everyone can find something to enjoy or make you think in the latest from Barrett.

256 p.
Published: March 2016

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

#BookReview: GLORY OVER EVERYTHING: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Books that are sequels but could stand alone can be a blessing or a curse. Secondary characters can become primary characters. Your favorite characters from the previous novel could all but disappear in the new sequel. I was torn while reading Glory Over Everything because the characters that I'd come to love were gone, yet I was intrigued to find out what was ahead for Jamie Pyke, the son Belle had in The Kitchen House. Readers will remember that he was a product of rape and that his white grandmother raised him in the big house. As such, he is able to pass and this new novel finds him doing just that in Philadelphia.

Passing is a risky endeavor. It requires that everyone sees you only as you present yourself, but all it takes is one person to really see you and learn your truth. Will they keep your secret or will they out you? Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Jamie is taken in by Henry, a free man of color. They establish a good relationship, but Henry sees Jamie and knows that he is passing.

Jamie's new life in Philadelphia is going quite well. As an established blacksmith, he's a man of means and a man of means must have a wife. He's well on his way to becoming the man his grandmother meant for him to be but is sidetracked by a request from an old friend. When Henry's son, Pan, is kidnapped and sold into slavery, Jamie must return to the plantation he escaped from to save his friend's child.

While Jamie's story was interesting, I really wanted to know what was going on with the characters back at the Pyke plantation. Jamie's return to the area reunites us with Sukie and we find out what happened to the characters we loved and loved to hate, but I would have preferred to have them as the primary story line and Jamie's life in Philadelphia as the secondary.

It seems that white authors have just recently discovered passing and it feels icky in their hands. Though less problematic in Glory Over Everything than in the forthcoming novel, The Gilded Years, it still feels like their latest fascination with being black in America. Maybe I'm over thinking it, but it made this sequel just a little less enjoyable than the original.

384 p.
Published: April 5, 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Friday, April 1, 2016

New Books Coming Your Way, April 5, 2016

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu
368 p. (Mystery; Singapore)

Slightly hobbled by a twisted ankle, crime-solving restaurateur Aunty Lee begrudgingly agrees to take a rest from running her famous café, Aunty Lee’s Delights, and turns over operations to her friend and new business partner Cherril.

The café serves as a meeting place for an animal rescue society that Cherril once supported. They were forced to dissolve three years earlier after a British expat killed the puppy she’d adopted, sparking a firestorm of scandal. The expat, Allison Fitzgerald, left Singapore in disgrace, but has returned with an ax to grind (and a lawsuit). At the café one afternoon, Cherril receives word that Allison has been found dead in her hotel—and foul play is suspected. When a veterinarian, who was also involved in the scandal, is found dead, suspicion soon falls on the animal activists. What started with an internet witch hunt has ended in murder—and in a tightly knit, law-and-order society like Singapore, everyone is on edge.

Before anyone else gets hurt—and to save her business—Aunty Lee must get to the bottom of what really happened three years earlier, and figure out who is to be trusted in this tangled web of scandal and lies.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride
256 p. (Non-fiction; biography)

James Brown is arguably among the most famous African Americans in the world. James McBride, himself a black man and a musician with southern roots, traveled South on a tip from Brown’s grandson promising to give him a scoop on the real man behind the legend. Despite his enormous influence, Brown’s musical legacy remains largely underappreciated, his will is a legal nightmare, and as his fortune is dispersed to warring lawyers, not a penny has been paid to educate the poor white and black children of Georgia, according to his wishes. His body is lying in a coffin on his daughter’s front yard and the man himself has remained an elusive enigma. McBride met with relatives, neighbors, friends, Brown’s “adopted” son Al Sharpton, fellow musicians who played in Brown’s band—who have never talked about Brown on the record before—and yet what he discovered what not what he expected. In this gripping narrative—at once adventure, music narrative, and social commentary—McBride comes to understand the reason that Brown has remained hidden to us all these years and what that means for us today.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
320 p. (Fiction; Bosnia/Serbia)

From the moment Marija walks into Lara's classroom, freshly moved to Serbia from Sarajevo, Lara is enchanted by her vibrant beauty, confidence, and wild energy--and knows that the two are destined to be lifelong friends. Closer than sisters, the girls share everything, from stolen fruit and Hollywood movies as girls to philosophies and even lovers as young women. But when the Bosnian War pits their homelands against each other in a bloodbath, Lara and Marija are forced to separate for the first time: romantic Lara heads to America with her Hollywood-handsome new husband, and fierce Marija returns to her native Sarajevo to combat the war through journalism behind Bosnian lines.

In America, Lara seeks fulfillment through work and family, but when news from Marija ceases, the uncertainty torments Lara, driving her on a quest to find her friend. As Lara travels through war-torn Serbia and Bosnia, following clues that may yet lead to the flesh-and-blood Marija, she must also wrestle with truths about her own identity.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez
320 p. (Fiction; Carribean)

Peter Ducksworth, a Trinidadian widower of English ancestry, retires to Barbados, believing he will find an earthly paradise there. He decides to divide his land among his three daughters while he is alive, his intention not unlike that of King Lear, who hoped "That future strife/May be prevented now." But Lear made the fatal mistake of confusing flattery with love, and so does Ducksworth. Feeling snubbed by his youngest daughter, Ducksworth decides that only after he dies will she receive her portion of the land. In the meantime, he gives his two older daughters their portions, ironically setting in motion the very strife he hoped to prevent.

Beautifully written in elegant prose, this is a novel about greed, resentment, jealousy, betrayal, and romantic love in the postcolonial world of the Caribbean, giving us a diverse cast of characters of African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian/Lebanese, and English ancestry.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Return Flights by Jarita Davis
88 p. (Poetry; Cape Verde)

These poems—varying from narrative to imagist to lyrical—reflect the “sodade” of Cape Verdean culture that is shaped by separation and longing—longing for the home that has been left behind and for loved ones who have departed. Cape Verdean communities extend beyond national boundaries and are paradoxically independent of place, even when inspired by it. Return Flights marks a turning point for Cape Verdean American culture, one in which a partially forgotten past becomes a starting point for possible futures, both of new transoceanic contacts and of new reinventions of culture.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Hardly War by Don Mee Choi
112 p. (Poetry; Korea/Vietnam)

Hardly War, Don Mee Choi's major second collection, defies history, national identity, and militarism. Using artifacts from Choi's father, a professional photographer during the Korean and Vietnam wars, she combines memoir, image, and opera to explore her paternal relationship and heritage. Here poetry and geopolitics are inseparable twin sisters, conjoined to the belly of a warring empire.

Like fried potato chips – I believe so,
utterly so – The hush-hush proving
ground was utterly proven as history –
Hardly=History – I believe so, eerily so
– hush hush – Now watch this
performance – Bull's-eye – An uncanny
human understanding on target –
Absolute=History – loaded with
terrifying meaning – The Air Force
doesn't say, hence Ugly=Narration –

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
384 p. (Historical fiction; African-American)

The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.

Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound